Thursday, April 4, 2013

Best Products and SITE; Postscript

   For the past few weeks, I’ve been highlighting the showroom designs that were created by the architectural firm SITE Inc. and commissioned by Best Products.  Best went out of business in 1998, but SITE is going strong, with lead architect and founder James Wines still at the helm.  What is a little sad about the whole project is that Best Products was SITE’s most steady client for 20 years, and with the destruction of most of the showrooms a large portion of SITE’s completed work no longer exists.  It’s rare to see an architect’s most recognizable, signature structures almost completely removed from the landscape, but at least photographic evidence of the buildings still exists and can educate and inspire wonder.  The showrooms were almost textbook illustrations of post-modern, deconstructionist architecture, and are still used as examples in art history books.  So while they may be gone, they are not entirely forgotten.

The sun sets on the Indeterminate Facade

   As a final note, perhaps the most disappointing chapter of the whole Best/SITE saga revolves around the lack of preservation efforts aimed at saving these once-celebrated buildings.  The Forest Showroom was saved by a sympathetic institution.  That’s it.  Apart from one of the designs being saved, it appears that no one even tried to save the others.  I have been able to find no evidence of failed preservation campaigns, or even news stories lamenting their destruction.  The three major art magazines (Art in America, Art News, and Artforum) did not report of the destruction of the buildings, nor did The Architectural Record, a magazine that devoted considerable ink to celebrating the designs in previous decades.  Not only were the SITE-designed elements removed from the structures, in many cases it seems that this was done almost immediately after Best closed its doors in the late 90s.  Apart from the Indeterminate Façade, which managed to hold on until 2002, most didn’t make it to the 21st century.  The SITE designed showrooms weren’t the only art-related casualties of Best’s closure.  A showroom façade in Pennsylvania designed by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown was also dismantled. Maybe once Best Products went out of business, people didn’t want to be reminded of the failure of a company that had once been so successful.  Maybe no other store or corporation would ever be able to successfully inhabit buildings that were so intrinsically linked to another company.  Maybe it’s fitting that buildings designed to look like they were decaying eventually did decay.  Regardless of how or why it happened, it’s important to remember that it did happen.  The world moves fast, the Internet seems to move faster, and sometimes past events get left behind, creating a Cultural Ghost.  When I began this series of posts a few weeks ago, I started by relating the story of my younger self seeing the buildings featured on TV, and as I got older  my fading memory of that first encounter became fuzzier, almost dream-like when seen through the lens of time and nostalgia.  Through these posts, perhaps I’ve been able to shed a little light on these lost buildings, confirming (to myself, and perhaps to others) that it wasn’t a dream.  They did exist.  They did (and I think still do) matter.
Next week, a new Cultural Ghost.  It might be something you’ve never heard of before.


  1. One of the reasons why these artworks have not survived is due to the nature of Best's buildings themselves. There are 5 former Best showrooms here in the SF Bay Area, and I can't think of ONE of them that didn't undergo EXTENSIVE remodeling before new tenants moved in.

    Best customers only saw about 30% of the building (the showroom), the rest was a warehouse. The warehouses were bare concrete and wood, uninsulated, and had no heating or air conditioning. Most were on the second floor, with warehouse-style lighting and shelving, with limited access to the first floor. Note the external staircase on the Peeling Project-- that is the access to the warehouse. Even the loading docks, when the building and site design would permit, were on the second floor.

    That, plus the fact that the stores were an odd size (between a big-box store and a normal-sized store) made them only really interesting to new tenants contemplating massive structural changes and/or just replacing the whole building.

  2. Thanks a lot for this overview! I read about the Best buildings long time ago on an eighties encyclopedia about new technologies of the time when I was a child and have always been amazed by theses buildings, and then amazed by the lack of information about them as well. I'm from Chile so I never knew the stores had closed! it saddens me most of the buildings are gone, but at least my favorite building of the lot still exists.

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